Matt had just arrived to Haiti and we were staying at a hotel in Port Au Prince. I heard a saxophone playing in the distance, a soulful melody with some talent behind it. Night had begun to fall and I could not see when I opened the blinds closest to the sound. Over the sound of clanking dishes from a nearby kitchen, while standing in our hotel bathroom, I listened intently and absorbed the emotion of the saxophonist through the song.
On the way to breakfast the next morning I could not stop thinking about the emotional expression in the song of the saxophonist the night before. At the end, near the stairway, the balcony veers off in the direction the music had come from. I went as far as I could go, stopping to lean on the railing. My eyes were quickly met by a mid-teenage boy tending to morning chores. His look pierced me. I was not in a position to explain why I was leaning over the railing, peering into his personal life; his look was of distaste toward me. Why would it not be? He lives here:
Look through the black railing and you will see a door. That is where he was standing, brushing his teeth when our gazes met. This is what I was seeing on the other side of our hotel building:
Maybe he knows what lies on the other side of the building. Maybe he sees my white skin, my choice to stay in a hotel and makes the assumption that I do not understand, maybe that I do not care. Who could blame him, really?
Multiple times daily we feel the pain of contrast – have vs have not. Opportunity vs misfortune. Individuals born into a country seemingly stuck in a cycle of despair, by no choice of their own met by us who by American standards live a very humble life but by Haitian standards appear quite wealthy. I could not capture his gaze to show you, but it is forever embedded in my memory.
God gives us these pictures to carry, I think. He knows what we need to see, how we need to feel and how He needs to mold us to do what it is He has for us to accomplish. Being sensitive to the pictures, filtering what we see for meaning, is often painful on several levels. For 31 years I have walked hallways as a nurse caring for those in need. I know the pain this privilege carries – an intimate peek into the lives of people in their most vulnerable times. It has prepared me to allow that same vulnerability as I peer into the lives of those we love and serve here in Haiti. I thank God for each challenging privilege that honed one more rough edge to prepare me along the way. I have to believe that is one reason He tells us to rejoice in our suffering, for without some pain we cannot change. OK, sometimes a lot of pain.
Yesterday two of the boys and I went to an outdoor market to purchase two green peppers, two onions and a head of garlic to prepare supper. ( Honestly? I made them Spanish Rice and most of them HATED it. One of them kindly said, “OK, Tricia, you don’t have to make that one again”.) When we had found two green peppers that hadn’t wilted in the day’s heat I asked for her price. She asked for way more than we had just seen at the “expensive” grocery store. When on of the boys told her that she said, “She is white, she can pay for it”. Our skin color brings a perception of wealth, regardless of our situation or choices we have made in relocation. Don’t ask me why, but I calmly and kindly attempted to explain to this vegetable vendor that I am not a wealthy American, that we are not here with support, but we are looking for work here in Haiti, too. Again, gazes met, but this time her eyes were dancing. . .with laughter. She laughed aloud as she said, “Maybe you don’t have a job here but you are white and you are from America, you have money.” After she messed with my mind and my spirit we did pay only fair market price for the peppers.
I had no conversation with the young man, yet I felt his judgment. My market acquaintance made clear her judgment. Regardless, I felt the same. Our world is full of injustice. In our hometowns, our local neighborhoods, our cities, our countries and around the world. We cannot answer injustice perfectly, or rapidly. Step by step, day by day, we can make a difference. One day I hope for those we serve to see that we were not born into a life in the U.S. by choice anymore than they were born into life here in Haiti by their choice. We are where we are because a great big, GRAND father God planted us where He wanted us to be. May each of us follow Him to the best of our ability. In the meantime, keep your ears open for great music amid the chaos of life! I can still hear the soul-filled sound of that saxophone in the distance…..